First of all, as a season opener, I have to say the plot was rather shabby. Although Sherlock is a character-driven series (as were the books, though to a lesser extent), I did expect something more than a very V for Vendetta reminiscent Guy Fawkes Day terrorist attack. However, in saying that, the reunion scenes, especially that between Inspector Lestrade (Rupert Graves) and Sherlock, really capture how much the detective has been missed, and the first snippet of the The Sign of Three really highlights the almost paternal relationship between the two men, as Lestrade shows exactly how much he is willing to give up for Sherlock (even though Lestrade’s first name is not a detail to remember, Sherlock’s opinion, which is another reference to Conan Doyle’s lack of continuity, as various police constables trot through the canon with remarkable alacrity).
The more comedic elements, such as the night-long battle of Sherlock’s lack of tact and John’s temper, craftily edited to suggest the expulsion from each establishment, free the episode from becoming too angsty. I think we have to recognise the hilarious Sherlock-ness of fixating on John’s Moustache, even while knowing it will result in more violence. (It was an awful Moustache, it deserved to die at the blade of a vengeful John Watson.) In much the same way, Sherlock himself manipulates John into a position where talking about his feelings to Sherlock, acknowledging his grief over Sherlock’s ‘death’ and forgiving him, does not impinge on his pride. This is a rather clever move from Gatiss as well, I have decided after some consideration, as at first I thought the scenario was a bit unlikely. However, I reconsidered, and now think that it was ingenious, allowing the friends to keep their relationship intact even while appreciating the not inconsiderable puerility of Sherlock, as well as being an action that I can see Sherlock doing (not to mention, this reconciliation allowed the characters to stay true to the foundations laid by canon and previous series).
Another enterprising aspect of this episode was the titular group; ‘The Empty Hearse’. While many fans saw the 3 alternative scenes of Sherlock’s survival as a breaking of the fourth wall and a nod to the fandom, I see it as something serving multiple purposes, the primary one being been mentioned by Moffat in an interview. As a Conan Doyle canon fan, I can see how clever this is. On the one hand, Gatiss is paying tribute to the original stories, which created the illusion that Sherlock Holmes was amongst the 1982 London population, and a real personage. When Conan-Doyle ‘killed off’ Holmes, to the horror of the fans, groups emerged, explanations of Sherlock’s survival were submitted, and fanfiction was written. Fanfiction was also published – for the duration of the Great Hiatus, the Strand Magazine had 20,000 less subscribers, as readers were forced to use their own imaginations to supplement the lack of forthcoming Holmes stories.
Thus, the scenes that Gatiss has included in ‘The Empty Hearse’ are genuine re-interpretations of what was happening with the canon, simply modernising the context as always. That fans can see themselves in the episode just shows how masterful Gatiss was in depicting events to overlap into modern fandom. I also enjoyed the nod to Conan Doyle’s somewhat sloppy re-animation of Holmes in the canon, as the simplest of theories presented in the episode was declared the true one (yes, now we know for sure!), and Sherlock, when confronted with Anderson’s disappointment, responded with “everyone’s a critic!“; a collective nod.
So I can certainly say that after a bit of rumination, I really liked this episode. Not to mention that I feel that Mary Morstan-Watson (played by Amanda Abbington) is a brilliant addition to the cast.
For a bit more reading, you can look down here:
- Sherlock Holmes: Perfection in a Deerstalker Cap (you can tell what they think about it just from the title, right?)
- IGN interview
- The Empty Hearse review
I’d be really interested what all of you felt about the way the plot/character divide was in this episode, and whether you approved of it or not!
– Let’s call me Lily